Friday, June 16, 2006

Of Rene Char, David Hamilton, cello music, and chocolate

Blogging from a little park up in a very homey neighborhood in the 13th above the Place d'Italie, in Paris, up the Rue Bobillot. It is one of the most beautiful days we've had all this trip - after some incredibly hot weather for a couple of days, it rained and cooled off yesterday, and today is spectacular - cool, clear, low humidity, blue skies and sunshine. I have a review session to conduct with my international business law students in advance of their final exam tomorrow, and I have managed to finish drafting the final exam. The students on this trip have had less free time than I have had - Jean-Marie, Renee, and I have managed to make it to the Louvre, the D'Orsay, the L'Orangerie to see the Monet waterlilies, and a couple of other museums besides. We - meaning Renee and I - tend to get up late but then it stays light late here too. Last night we had a lovely touristy dinner at Altitude 95 in the Eiffel Tower.

Yesterday, however, I spent most of the day on an expedition of Personal Growth and Learning. I started out down near the Pont Neuf and worked my way slowly up through the neighborhoods to the Latin Quarter, then the Rue Mouffetard, and finally back to the hotel at the Place d'Italie, in a complicated search for the finest chocolate in Paris and also critical works on Rene Char. I started out with the small chain Cacao et Chocolat, on the Rue Buci, where I bought several interesting things. I noticed, however, that almost next door, in one of the galleries, was an exhibition of David Hamilton photographs.

Hamilton has spent the last thirty years photographing female adolescent nudes. I think I've mentioned him before on this blog. How to describe him? He's considered more or less child porn in America, slightly smutty in Britain, and art in France, as someone once put it. I once wrote a review of photography of nude adolescents in the Times Literary Supplement, where I compared him with the (much more serious) American photographer Jock Sturges - here on SSRN. I said, I think, some interesting things in that review, but my wife and former professional photojournalist Jean-Marie Simon said it best at dinner last night - no, of course Hamilton is not a child pornographer, but he is more or less the Ralph Lauren of nude photography, a kind of faux profundity and very superficial beauty. Anyway, it was quite interesting to see photographs that I had reviewed in a photo book full sized in a gallery. They were of course more impressive as full photographs. They are also more impressive as genuine art seen individually - there's something about an entire book of erotic photos of barebreasted 14 year olds that makes it feel smutty in a way that a single image does not. The single image, seen alone, gets attention as a work of art in a way that the whole collection does not.

Okay, and now I'm out of time and I haven't mentioned my search in the bookstores of Paris, especially up in around the unversity areas, for critical works in French on Rene Char - in the midst of my search for chocolate. I'll fill out this blog post more thoroughly tomorrow. What a gorgeous day. Not a day to be inside, but I have to go do the review session with the students. More to follow.

The search for chocolate. Well, the issue is to find outstanding chocolate that is not already available for half the price in Trader Joe's in Bethesda, which means small artesanal shops rather than the large companies like Valhrona. Also, I am interested in chocolate - not truffles or chocolate confectionary. Paris is outstanding on chocolate as chocolate. I stopped by Cacao et Chocolat, which was pretty good - a small chain, I guess. But as I worked my way through the Sixth, the best place I found was Patrick Roger (have to check name, may have this slightly wrong, and I'll put the address). I picked up several bars of single origin cacaos from places I've never tried. Can I really tell the difference? I'm not sure. I wouldn't want to try a double blind taste test. I do pick up certain things like differences in acidity and certain flavors.

Meanwhile, while working my way through the chocolate shops as I moved up the Left Bank, through the Latin Quarter and up to the Rue Mouffetard, I was also going into literary bookstores, in search of critical materials on Rene Char. I've written about Char a lot on this blog. But my interest is very confined - it is about his wartime writings in the Resistance. But while there is some stuff on him generally as a poet in English, it is hard in the US to find critical material in French. So I was pleased to be able to find a couple of serious studies, both favorable and unfavorable, in French. I have this inchoate project in the back of my mind to put together a special section of some journal specifically on Char's Leaves of Hypnos. I am interested in it because of the way that its representation of the ethics of war. But I am interested in what others might say about it.

Char's reputation has declined significantly since his death in 1988. I was talking to my sister in law, Kit Wa Hui, about this last night at dinner. She studied French literature at Cal before becoming a filmmaker, and her comment was that Char had come to be regarded as arrogant, prickly about his reputation, and that his aphoristic poetry had come to be seen as more obscurantist than revelatory. You might say that the most emblematic use of Char's poetry was by M. de Villepin as the title for his silly, silly book two years ago on French foreign policy, with a phrase of Char's as the title, The Shark and the Seagull. The unkind comment would be that one overrated, arrogant intellectual deserves the other.

Nonetheless, I still regard Char's Leaves of Hypnos as an extraordinary achievement in the literature of war and war's ethics. To describe war as "this time of damned algebra" captures something exactly. There is much of that kind of insight in the book. I'm not especially interested in viewing it through the lens of the literary critic or the poet. I'm interested in it from the standpoint of war and the ethics of war, and in that, I think that Char's actual experience carries, and continues to carry, considerable weight.

Now, where would be a good venue to ask for a handful of articles in a mixture of English and French on Char's Leaves of Hypnos? Telos, perhaps - I'll have to take it up with Russell Berman, the new editor.

Cello music. I stopped in a couple of music stores looking for cello sheet music that I might not have seen. The truth is, though, that sheet music is widely and easily available on line. It used to be that I would sort through the sheet music available in any country I visited, to see what I wouldn't see at home. But these days, it is all posted on line.


Anonymous said...

I've read that essay now. Awfully harsh words for the liberal project, as well as the Christian.

There might be an argument to be made in the defense of either that the values expressed in any effort to move the democratic masses are constrained by the values that can be transmitted by the mass media: populist in any case, crude in most cases, contingent in no case.

Anonymous said...

Professor Anderson, I got a suggestion for you. Why don't you visit Bondy, which is a suburb outside Paris. I think that visiting it will give you another view of France and will help you get a better understanding of what happened in the banlieues last Fall. Have a wonderful trip! I would like to know what you think of Sarkozy and of Segolene Royal.

Anonymous said...

Like chocolate from France? There is a wonderful article about French chocolate. It has some history and even recommends the best wine/chocolate combinations, which I found to be absolutely delicious. It's for real gourmets!

Anonymous said...

We live in a 'modern' world where it is not only acceptable but perversely common to see images of children murdered in the streets of Baghdad or starving in the gutters of Somalia. Yet when an artist such as David Hamilton devotes their unique vision to a sense of beauty in the world they are treated as 'pornographers'. When will we realize that 'murder of the innocent' is the real crime and not 'nudity of the innocent'. With statements like "where I compared him with the (much more serious) American photographer Jock Sturges" and "but he is more or less the Ralph Lauren of nude photography, a kind of faux profundity and very superficial beauty" you demonstrate not only a lack of knowledge regarding the artist but a comfortable numbness towards media violence and contemporary 'superficial beauty'. I say we need more people like Hamilton who value and cherish beauty and less who seek to destroy it, for they are the real 'pornographers'. As the many animal species die off from our own careless destruction of the planet, so too does the beauty of mankind. When future generations look to books and other media to understand the past they might discover the works of David Hamilton and have a glimpse of what was once a beautiful and innocent world that was recklessly taken for granted and sadly lost forever.